Dancing between nature & technology

Dancing between nature & technology

26 February 2024 532 views

by Liesbeth Van Loo

Dancing between nature & technology

At some point during our workshop about the Leading thoughts of Steiner, the question arose: “What forces do we need to cultivate to dance with Ahriman?” Ahriman, is a challenging force, in this case being: materialism, digital technology, and artificial intelligence.

As a contemporary dancer, I felt very attracted to the question, and I’d like to take you on a dance through some pertinent ideas, questions, and reflections that popped up during the February Days that took place from 1-4 February 2024 at the Goetheanum, with the theme “Digital technology & spirituality”.

Man as the creator

Human’s nature is to create. We are human when we are able to make something with our hands, to make things, because we don’t have claws, says Hernan Melana (musician, composer, writer, history teacher). We return to ourselves when we make things with our hands when we see the result of our making. It reforms us as human beings, and it sets us free. Or as Sebastian Lorenz (doctor of psychiatry, psychotherapy, and general medicine) puts it: “If you forget to create, you lose your humanity.”

Technology has always been a way for human creativity to become more independent from nature. Ever since we exist as human beings we connect our spirit to nature and transform it, by for instance making knives out of stones and using it for hunting. The first tools had a guiding character from men (a fork is used by a person, it doesn’t do anything itself), whereas now we see machines that create other machines, more and more self-regulating, says Matthias Rang (research fellow in the Natural Science Section at the Goetheanum).

With human evolution, we see a further separation from nature, in which the tools we create become more and more independent and self-regulating. We press a button and two hours later we get out our cleaned laundry… Tools became separate from human beings, being automatic.

The interesting idea that Matthias Rang and Gareth Dicker (Waldorf teacher in math & physics) brought, is that in our attempt to create technology to free ourselves from our dependency on nature, we are now getting more dependent on technology. When technology becomes our hands and feet, our eyes and ears, an extension of our physical functions, we go towards a situation where we can’t survive without it.

Sebastian Lorenz speaks about three current values and goals of our society: gold, everlasting health, and an undying body. We are at war with nature, that is: the dying body and sickness. Our ultimate goal is the absence of pain and suffering, and if possible, immortality. We replace organs and use technology to add mechanical elements to the body. We extend life to the maximum and kill the pain. But don’t we also grow through suffering? Do we become less or more human by allowing pain and disease?

Mirrors and windows

Where does digital technology challenge us? It’s what we created and it answers certain human needs, and at the same time, it separates us more and more from our human nature, making us dependent on it.

On a personal note: I’m writing a fiction story in which I’m building a fantasy world and I have the greatest difficulty to make it more amazing than how nature is. Isn’t that amazing? If I’m trying to describe what my fantasy world can do, I notice that nature is already doing it much better! I just never noticed.

I imagine: if you put the process of a seed becoming a stem becoming a plant and then dying in a video with a soundtrack and some suspense – we will be amazed by it. But we don’t notice it in nature around us all year… So what do screens manage to do that nature lacks?

“We need art to show people what the world looks like.” Screens and moving pictures and stories attract us, maybe because they show our reality differently, in a different light. And that’s what art has been doing forever. Art shows us an image that gives us back the reality in a new, refreshing way. It challenges us to look with new eyes and be surprised by the trivial.

Nathaniel Williams (leader of the Youth Section) spoke in that way about the art and power of icons. Before we developed what we call in the West “the real art” with 3D drawing, the drawing of how reality is (f.i. Michelangelo), at the dawn of modern science, we had icon-art. Icon-art as a 2D reality was perceived by the Western world as a simplicity of reality (a flat reality, not being aware of the natural dimensions), but the artists understood it as a window to the spiritual world, to let the Gods speak through the image. To let our imagination speak through the image.

And that seems to be problematic with screens: it takes away our effort to imagine or to connect to our spirit. Often we find ourselves on the internet, looking for one subject, ending up on a totally different subject while naturally browsing from one page to another, and time flies. We’re not being challenged to think ourselves and act as creators while relating to the screen. It’s almost a state of not-being, being cut off from the spiritual part of ourselves; our imagination, and creativity.

Digital technology is always something of the past, a conversation with the past, the repetition of things already thought and created (Omer Eilam, musician).

It’s like a mirror: it shows us the room in which we are (Matthias Rang). Digital technology works like a mirror, showing us what we already know. The algorithm shows you the bubble that you are already in, reinforcing your worldview.

So, there lies the biggest challenge: how to meet the screen with creativity, imagination, and inspiration? Or, how to find a window to look through, which is showing us a new world?

Towards living thoughts

Humans could only develop free will by being cut off from the Gods, spirituality, and thus being in reality of nature (Steiner, leading thoughts). As a result, our thoughts in our physical body became dead thoughts, they lost their livingness. It’s pure intellect, without spiritual inspiration. We intellectually look at nature and the material, feeling separate from it.

As an answer to that stands Michael, the counterbalance that Steiner calls upon. It’s the freedom that comes from a pure love for the action, a manifestation of meaningful action without taking credit. Thoughts become alive because the intellectual power goes into the whole being; the heart feels the brightness or darkness of the thought. We could also call this “Embodied thinking”.

A beautiful metaphor was made with the mythical story of Perseus (Matthias & Gareth): In order to kill Medusa (who turns every man into stone when he looks into her eyes), he uses a mirror to visualize her and cut off her head. From her head then jumps a winged Pegasus.

When we see and recognize Medusa and approach her with our hearts, she loses her power over us. The winged Pegasus is our intellect with wings, the possibility to bring our intellect into our feeling, into our whole being.

To make the connection with the challenges of digital technology: the point is not to reject technology, but to bring our feeling into it, and use the quality of self-reflection to regain our power.

And thus man becomes an expression of the world (Steiner, Leading thoughts). By asking questions: “What does the situation need? What is asked of me now? What wants to be expressed in this environment?” we reconnect as a whole to our world and bring the ongoing separation back together.

A question of heart

So how do we find the winged Pegasus inside ourselves? How do we let the feeling enter the stage?

Human thinking can only develop into something new when it is inspired by spiritual thinking. I find inspiration in these guiding questions:

1. Is this thought right, good, inspired? (judgment)

2. Can I feel empathy for the suffering in Ahriman (the Medusa)? That means, can I feel the suffering that is created by digital technology and thus feel connected with people and the world?

3. Self-reflection (freeing ourselves by looking into the mirror and recognizing the Medusa in us).
By looking at technology with our middle part, the heart, we can free ourselves from it.

The feeling operates as a quality to distinguish the death from the living. Then we can also realize how the living can work life-giving in ourselves. For instance: more and more therapists prescribe “forest-bathing” as a therapeutic solution for people with burn-out and depression. In the West lots of people spend more than half of their time in artificial light, with screens, and working with a non-material digital world. When we mostly live in a ‘dead’, artificial environment, we might lose a bit of life inside ourselves too.

To finish and come back to the initial question “What forces do we need to cultivate to dance with Ahriman?” I give two inspiring ideas from a dance perspective.

When we dance with reality it becomes lighter. It inevitably becomes a subject of the heart. This is an invitation to look and act with the eyes of a child, playful, with a certain distance of how serious the world is. And find force in the amazement and flexibility of playfulness. Or as Sebastian Lorenz says: “If nothing surprises you, you’re ready to die.”

“I take my whole body in my hands and between my hands and move from there.” (David Zambrano, dancer and choreographer). The whole of our being is needed to confront digital technology and dance with it.

Liesbeth Van Loo - participant